Audiobook Review: Anita by Keith Roberts

8 04 2013

Anita by Keith Roberts

Read by Nicola Barber

Neil Gaiman Presents

Length: 9 Hrs

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: Listening to this book felt like returning to a much beloved tale of my youth although I had never read these stories before. Full of magic, humor and some wonderfully wicked characters Anita was simply a whole lot of fun to experience.

Grade: B+

2013 Audie Nomination for Fantasy

A few weeks ago I tried to rewatch Buck Rogers. It didn’t go well. I loved Buck Rogers as a kid, at least I remember loving the concept of Buck Rogers. I really have few memories of the actual show other than Twiki bidi-bidi-bidi-ing around. All I know I loved it as a kid, and watching it as an adult, well, wasn’t so pretty. Somehow, in the 30ish years since I last watched Buck Rogers, the special effects became horrid, the acting wooden and the stories boring. I find this happens to me a lot with visual mediums. I remember things I enjoyed as a child on TV as being so much better that they actually are and am often amazed at how I could ever have liked it. It’s a bit different with books. I have revisited books I loved as a kid on many occasions. I’ve learned that the experiences of these books are different, yet not really worse, as an adult. Often I find these books are simpler than I remember. The vast lands of Oz or Narnia not as big as I remember. Yet I also find a new beauty in them. Rediscovering the Phantom Tollbooth or James and the Giant Peach allows me to see things that I didn’t as a child. Often, there is both a melancholy sense of loss during these rereads coupled with a new appreciation of what the author did. Often times, I enjoy these tales, not more or less, but on a new level. When I listened to Neil Gaiman introduce Anita, ant talk about the magic of these stories I couldn’t help but wish that I had read these tales when I was younger, when maybe I was a little more open to the magic of these tales. 

Anita is a free spirited young witch, under the tutelage of Granny, who lives on a sort of magical copse on the edge of the modern world. She can change her shape, speak with animals and meets all manner of magical creatures, while dealing with boys in their cars, supermarkets and new technology. Anita is told in a series of short stories as we follow her development growing in her powers while maturing as an individual. Now, this is my first experience with these stories, but in many ways I felt like I did when returning to a much beloved tale of my youth. The stories have a surface level simpleness, obvious morality tales that reflected the time in which it was written, but with hidden moments of depth, and tongue in cheek humor that the younger set may miss. Not that Anita is a strictly children’s book. Its stories are full of magic and beauty that would appeal to younger children, but also full of a sort of 60’s era charm that adults will enjoy. Like many tales like this, Anita can be at times brave and bratty, frustrating and flashy, naive and mature all rolled into one. It’s a coming of age story with a protagonist in a never ending morphing of personhood. She makes mistakes, many of which come back to bite her in the butt later. Her naiveté and free spiritness is both refreshing and off-putting in equal measure. She is a wonderful character at time when not driving the reader just a wee bit crazy. Yet, even better is her crotchety, irascible Granny whose flavor filled patios often masks her deep wisdom. Being this is more of an anthology that a novel, some stories are stronger than others. The best stories involve the conflicts between the modern world and the witching world. There are two noticeable examples, both involving Granny dealing with some new modernity to hilarious yet often disastrous results. Other stories take a bit more work to get into but have their own sort of magic. There were times a story would bore me, but most were relatively short, and the next would grab me right away. If I had kids, I think I would love reading these stories to them, even with Anita’s open but subtle sexuality. These are just the kinds of tales I would have loved as a child, and as an adult, I appreciate their humor, magic and various lessons they teach that aren’t always as cut and dry as the typical morality tale.

This is my second experience with Nicola Barber and one that simply was beautiful to listen to. Barber voiced Anita perfectly, giving her a young, precocious and at times, uncomfortably sexy voice. She captured the carefree attitudes of the young perfectly. Yet, where she really excelled was in her voicing of Granny. It was simply splendid. Honestly, Granny’s patois was so deep and flavorful that it was at times hard to figure out but always wonderful to hear. It was like listening to music, even if I didn’t understand the lyrics, I enjoyed listening to every note. Barber captured the fable-like feel of the tale wonderfully, giving the stories a poetic rhythm that matched the whimsical nature of the tales wonderfully. Even the stories I didn’t find as engaging, just listening to Barber read them made it worth my time. Listening to this book felt like returning to a much beloved tale of my youth although I had never read these stories before. Full of magic, humor and some wonderfully wicked characters Anita was simply a whole lot of fun to experience.  I’m not sure if I would even have given this one a listen if it hadn’t been for the Audie nomination, but I am definitely thankful I did.

Audiobook Review: The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll

27 03 2012

The Land of Laughs by Jonathan Carroll

Read by Edoardo Ballerini

Neil Gaiman Presents

Length: 8 Hrs 47 Min

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts:  The Land of Laughs is solid storytelling. A Tale that slowly builds, pulling the reader deeper and deeper into the tale, and then smacking them upside the head with a wonderfully delivered ending.

Grade: A-


The Land of Laughs is a 2012 Audie Award Nominee in the Category of Fantasy.

The Land of Laughs by Jonathon Carroll is the second book in the Neil Gaiman presents audiobook line that I have undertaken. It is also an Audie nominee for Fantasy which means it is one of my listens for Armchair Audies. I have one stunning confession to make. Although I have read quite a lot in my life, I am not especially well read. Sure, I have my niches where I have explored certain genres well beyond the average reader, but for the whole, I really am not one who has explored the myriad of classics in any particular genre. This is particularly true in Fantasy. I have skinned the surface of the genre, and read many of the modern popular titles. I have read George Martin and Stephen Donaldson, and I have jumped on to the bandwagons of various fads. Yet, I have never really dug into the genre, discovering the hidden classics, the Fantasist’s Fantasies. This is one of the reasons I have been excited about Neil Gaiman’s line. Here is a chance to discover new authors that I may not have had chosen before. Through this line I met a Minotaur who worked at a cook at a Steak House, and his story became one of my favorite audiobooks in 2011. This time, it’s the work of Jonathan Carroll.

The Land of Laughs is about a person obsessed with books. Thomas Abbey has lived his life in the shadow of his father, a popular actor and sex symbol. Abbey’s one refuge was in the world’s created by reclusive children’s fantasy author Marshall France. Now, an adult, Abbey is stuck in a rut, unfulfilled by his job teaching literature to privilege prep school boys. He decided to take a break, and take a chance writing a biography of the author who meant so much to him. Abbey is warned by France’s long time editor to expect a hostile reception from Anna, Frances daughter. So, when he arrives at the small town of Galen Missouri, Abbey and his girlfriend Saxony are taken aback by the warm enthusiastic reception they receive. The Land of Laughs is part American Fable, part Twilight zone episode. Carroll paces it at a slow burn, He lulls you into an almost sense of complacency with his normal characters and description of everyday life of small town Americana, so that when the Fantasy elements bleed into the tale you are almost unprepared for them. There is one moment, the first full on time where the otherworldliness unquestionable enters the tale, that you are just jarringly reminded that this is in fact fantasy. From the moment the cascade of unusual begins. Carroll unfolds this tale beautifully, moving each revelation into the game like a master chess player. He creates a wonderfully frustrating character in Thomas Abbey. Abbey is almost boring in his angst filled existence, and Carroll complements him with two fascinating women, one who is heartbreakingly real, and another a twisted fantasy. Most importantly, Carroll pulls it all together, offering an ending that colors the entire tale, making you reevaluate the entire story. The Land of Laughs is solid storytelling. A Tale that slowly builds, pulling the reader deeper and deeper into the tale, and then smacking them upside the head with a wonderfully delivered ending.

First off, I simply love Edoardo Ballerini voice, and I’m secure enough in my masculinity to admit it. He has such a rich modern tone, the fit this tale so well, He reads with and almost effortlessness that fully allows you to immerse yourself in the world Carroll is presenting. He brings the wide array of characters, from big city editors, to simple townsfolk alive with authenticity. There is only one little complain I have about the audiobook, and it’s not really anyone in particular’s fault. This book was written in 1980, and Ballerini’s performance was so modern, that occasionally a dated reference would bring me out of the story, for instance, the moment when I realized that the Thomas Abbey character was writing out his story longhand. Now, I’m sure this is something that may still happen, and was probably quite commonplace at the time this book was set, but, I kept forgetting as I listened that this was a production of a book over 30 years old. I guess that this is a reflection of the timeless quality Carroll achieved and the modern feel of Ballerini’s performance, and should be seen as praise and not a criticism.

Audiobook Review: The Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill

16 11 2011

The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill

Read by Holter Graham

Neil Gaiman Presents

Length: 9 Hrs 4 Mins

Genre: Fantasy

Quick Thoughts: The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break is an audiobook experience that will play with your emotions. As the novel progresses “M” becomes inexplicably important to you, as he awkwardly attempts to bond with his coworkers and tries to find a place in this world. I challenge anyone to take a listen to this audioboo, and not be moved by this wonderfully conceived character.

Grade: A

I must admit, I have an immense jealousy of Neil Gaiman. Now this jealousy doesn’t spring from the fact that he is hugely talented as both a novelist and an audiobook narrator, among many other things, nor does it come from the fact that he is one of the most influential voices on social media, who with a simple tweet can cause a massive overload on a website. No, my jealousy comes from the fact that he is living one of my dreams, the ability to give some of his favorite overlooked books the audiobook treatment. So, my jealousy is peppered with appreciation. It’s a wonderful time to be an audiobook fan, especially a sci-fi/fantasy audiobook fan. With tools like ACX spawning audiobook lines like Neil Gaiman Presents, and other new initiatives, like Brilliance Audio’s teaming up with Angry Robot Books, fans of speculative fiction are seeing a wider variety of audiobook choices.  As someone who wants to support efforts like this as much as possible, I just knew I would have to add some of these projects to my upcoming review list. Neil Gaiman Presents first offering of content was five audiobooks released last month. I really struggled with which of the five novels to listen to first. In fact, I moved various novels in and out of my shopping cart at dizzying speed. In the end, I decided on Steven Sherrill’s The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break as my first choice for various reasons, including the fascinating visual image of a Minotaur working as a line cook, and the fact that I am a fan of Holter Graham’s narration work.

The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break is a slice of life look at a creature that, while straight out of mythology, is now living a quiet life in the American South. “M” lives in trailer park, works as a line cook at a local restaurant, and spends his free time working on cars. Sherrill’s novel is unlike anything I typically read. There really isn’t much of a plot to the tale, The Minotaur doesn’t get pulled into some mystery, or comes to the rescue of his lady love, he just works his job, and lives his life. There is this overriding strangeness in this novel, yet, what truly makes the strangeness stand out in an almost poetic way is that it is wrapped up in the mundane. The Minotaur doesn’t live in a world full of mythological creatures. He just exists. His neighbors and coworkers are decidedly human. While he gets some shocked looks, and sneers from strangers, these responses are normal reactions to someone different and not the world altering reaction you would expect if a Minotaur walked into your local grocery store. While not a first person tale, the narrative is peppered with “M’s” perspective. You see the world through his eyes, and try to comprehend the actions of humans through his inner dialogue. It is so beautifully done, so full of sadness and heart that the listener becomes inexplicably engaged with this character. You want to experience all aspects of his life and are willing to follow him almost anywhere. The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break is an audiobook experience that will play with your emotions. As the novel progresses “M” becomes inexplicably important to you, as he awkwardly attempts to bond with his coworkers and tries to find a place in this world. I challenge anyone to take a listen to this audiobook, and not be moved by this wonderfully conceived character.

As Narrator, Holter Graham perfectly captures all aspects of this novel. While his grunts and gruff verbalizations of the Minotaur are expertly done, it’s his reading of the prose that wins me over. Graham reads the narrative as if he was the narrator of a wildlife documentary. His slow steady matter of fact approach allows us to experience the Minotaur as he should be experienced. Grahams reading enhances the normal/absurd paradox of this book in a way that just seems to match what the author intended. Grahams reading is pleasant on the ears and easy to follow, but beyond that, it brings a surprising amount of depth to the tale. The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break is simply a wonderful slice of life and one of the top audiobook productions of the year. I loved every moment of it.